In the past few weeks, I’ve had to request a larger number of refunds than normal for my food purchases. These refunds fall into two categories:

– The price at the register is higher than the price on the shelf, so the store ends up refunding the difference.

– The item is damaged in shipping and isn’t safe to eat, so the retailer has to provide a credit for the damaged product.

Each time, I’ve been careful to explain the source of the problem so that the store can correct it. Yet, the same issues keep cropping up, forcing me to submit the same type of refund request over and over again.

What’s wrong with this picture? Clearly, the retailer has the data to show that there’s a pattern in the refund requests that their customers are submitting. But maybe they don’t consider shipping damage or pricing errors to be worth correcting unless something like 100 people report the same problem.

However, I’m guessing that very few customers actually take the time to pursue a refund, especially for less costly items or small pricing disparities. This means that even a small pattern can convey valuable data. By paying more attention to these refund trends, a savvy retailer should be able to deliver more consistent pricing and reduce the number of products damaged in transit — before the problem becomes so widespread that customers have already started to shop elsewhere.

I took a rare trip to a department store last weekend to pick up a few things. As always, I found it exceedingly difficult to locate the desired items, even with a printout from the store’s website in hand. However, that’s sort of unavoidable in stores with large floor plates and multiple floors per department.

During my visit, I noticed another inefficiency: the checkout desks are located in seemingly random places throughout the store, and there’s no rhyme or reason to which ones are staffed at any given time. I managed to find a sales rep who helped complete my purchase at a nearby register, but I can easily see how this process could involve a lot of wandering and frustration for the typical customer.

As it turns out, grocery stores and big box retailers have already solved this problem. They simply add a light or other visual indicator mounted high above each checkout lane, enabling customers to quickly spot the nearest open checkout area. By adopting a similar approach, department stores and other retailers that employ a decentralized checkout design would make it easier for shoppers to locate a nearby checkout area. In turn, abandonment rates should improve significantly, and more customers will associate the store with an efficient shopping experience.

Whenever possible, I like to buy bulk-size packages of food. My apartment has lots of storage space, so the larger packages save time and money compared to constantly reordering smaller versions.

However, I’ve noticed one annoying trend regarding these larger packages. The bigger the package, the less likely it is to be resealable. While smaller bags and pouches tend to come with a sandwich bag-style resealing strip on top, the bulk size versions usually leave you on your own after opening them. Sure, you can transfer the contents to a different container or tie up the bag using a twist tie or clip. But that’s easier said than done when the original box contains several pounds of food.

I can’t imagine that it would cost more than a few cents to make the typical bulk-size bag resealable. I’ve even seen it done on large bags of raisins and other common products. By adopting this approach, manufacturers would make it easier for customers to live with the bulk container during the weeks or months it takes to go through it. In turn, people would be more likely to buy that product again, which should more than make up for the few extra cents that it costs to produce the resealable package.

The process I use for placing my monthly grocery delivery order is quite simple. First, I print out a receipt showing what I bought last month. Then, I go to the page in the online grocer’s website that lets me reorder any of the items that I’ve bought before. Finally, I fill in the quantities I need, making any necessary adjustments along the way, and browse the weekly specials for any bargains before I submit the order.

This approach usually works really well, but this time, I ran into a problem. None of the frozen vegetables that I buy were in the historical orders list. It was like I had never bought them at all, even though I was holding a receipt from last month that showed otherwise.

After thinking about it for a second, I remembered that the store was in the process of rolling out a new house brand for many different products. Maybe, I figured, they got rid of the frozen vegetables from the old no-name brand, and replaced them with house brand versions. Sure enough, a quick search uncovered the house brand of each product, with the same sizes and prices that I was accustomed to.

What’s wrong with this picture? In short, I shouldn’t have had to hunt for the replacement items. The store was obviously well aware that they were swapping out a large number of no-name products with new house brand editions, and should have provided appropriate on-screen messages or links to help customers locate the replacement versions. Otherwise, you’re leaving an awful lot to chance, and total sales will likely suffer while customers try to figure out what happened to the tried-and-true products that they’ve been buying for years.

I had family visiting me in the city last weekend, which always means eating out a little more than usual. Our first such excursion was breakfast, which brought me to a diner that I hadn’t eaten at in months. Compared to my previous meal there, two things stood out:

– The server left a large bottle of water on the table for us to pour as desired, rather than relying on hovering busboys to walk by with a pitcher.

– The shredded hash browns had been replaced by large potato chunks.

Both of these changes made the experience far better than I expected. In particular, the perfectly seasoned potatoes were just about the best I’ve ever tasted. They were so good, in fact, that I asked our server if there was a story behind them.

Sure enough, she explained that the restaurant had received customer feedback indicating that the old hash browns were boring and lacked anything to distinguish them from the other breakfast places in town. So, they decided to take a different approach, which led to the crispy, seasoned potatoes instead. Similarly, I’m guessing that customers told them that having someone hover over the table with a pitcher of water was annoying, hence the self-service bottle instead.

If I had known about these improvements earlier, I probably wouldn’t have waited so long to return to this restaurant. And this underscores one of the funny things about customer feedback. It’s great to gather feedback from your customers and put it to work to make their experience better in the future. But it’s also important to let current and prospective customers know that you’re listening and making improvements, since the very thing you just changed might be all it takes to get people to give your place another try.

I’ve been purchasing the same brand of nonfat yogurt for years. Since the small containers are usually cheaper per ounce than the bulk size, I typically get several dozen of the little containers delivered every month. With so much plastic involved, I always try to wash out the containers and drop them in the recycling bin. But some recent changes have made that a lot harder to do.

For whatever reason, the manufacturer replaced the iconic, round container with an ugly rectangular one. The new design presents several challenges from a recycling point of view:

– The bottom of the container has a strange pattern imprinted into it, which creates crevices for the yogurt to get stuck in and makes rinsing out the container a chore.

– The empty containers can’t be neatly stacked, which means that even a dozen empty ones take up a lot of space.

– The edges of the containers seem sharper than before, increasing the chance that they could tear through a bag while en route to the recycling center.

Taken together, these changes to the container design mean that consumers are less likely to take the time to recycle the product, while also posing challenges for the storage and transport of the empty containers. And since the new design doesn’t appear to offer any meaningful benefits in terms of branding, product quality, or other attributes, I have no idea what motivated the manufacturer to make these changes.

Regardless of which factors are driving a redesign, the takeaway here is the same. If you’re reworking a container or other package that consumers are supposed to recycle, then be sure that the new design is just as easy to clean, store, and transport for recycling purposes as the old design was. That way, you’ll continue making it easy for people to perform their part of the recycling process, rather than coming across as a clueless company that has no idea about how recycling works from the customer’s point of view.

Last week, I made several changes to my online banking setup in an effort to streamline and simplify things. For the most part, these changes consisted of finding the appropriate Edit button or link, and then modifying the desired values. However, not every change was quite so straightforward.

In a few cases, I didn’t see an Edit button next to the setting I wanted to change. I knew where it was supposed to be, since most of the other settings had the link present. But no matter how many times I checked, I couldn’t figure out how to change the value online.

I ended up calling the bank, and they made the change for me. Apparently, there was no way that I could have accomplished the same thing online. That’s all fine and good, but I shouldn’t have had to spend so much time figuring that out on my own.

Ideally, the online banking site would have an Edit button or link for every setting that a customer might want to change. Then, for the settings that can’t be changed online, clicking on the link would bring up a screen explaining just that, along with instructions about how to complete the task by phone or another communication channel. That way, customers won’t have to waste their time looking for a feature that simply isn’t there, and the customer service team won’t have to deal with already-irate people when they inevitably call in to make the change.

After working through a series of rather frustrating issues with one of our main phone providers, I received another nasty surprise from telco land. One of our secondary providers sent an email saying that our credit card was declined, and that our account had been suspended as a result of the failed payment.

Since I knew that there was nothing wrong with the card or the available credit line, I called the vendor to see what was going on. They tried the credit card again and it went through fine, and our access to the account was restored. A few days later, the exact same issue arose with another one of our accounts at that company, and we had to repeat the idiotic process of calling just to ask them to try again.

From talking to their staff, I learned that they only try a credit card once before turning off an account. They don’t attempt to try it again, and they don’t make any allowance for issues on their end that might cause a charge to be declined. Obviously, this approach is quite problematic.

What’s the solution? Just use a few common sense rules when processing your customers’ recurring credit card payments:

– If the card is declined the first time, be sure to retry it at least once more. Ideally, the initial retry would occur on the same day, with a subsequent attempt made the following day.

– If a large number of cards across multiple customer accounts are getting declined (which was actually the situation with our vendor), make it a top priority to see if an error in your own systems or at your banking partner is causing the problems.

– If there aren’t any widespread issues with processing credit card charges, and a particular customer’s card keeps getting declined after several retries, then notify the customer and give them a chance to correct the problem. Don’t just turn off their account and notify them after the fact. Instead, provide a reasonable grace period so they can take action before having their service turned off.

Taken together, these tips seem obvious. However, as my experience showed, at least one company — and probably many more — isn’t using this type of common sense when it comes to their recurring credit card payments. And that’s a shame, since adopting these recommendations would make life easier for customers, while driving improved company performance in the form of better collection rates and more renewals.

The other day, I found myself on the phone for many hours with one of our telephone providers. We were troubleshooting a rather complex issue, and I had to call back at least a half dozen times before the problem was fixed. At the start of each of these calls, I typically spoke to someone in their first level support department. And during several of those interactions, the support person read the case notes and asked me what a particular acronym meant.

As it turned out, I knew what the acronym stood for, since it corresponded to something the tier two and tier three support staff had spoken to me about. But if the higher level people were using this term left and right, why hadn’t that information trickled down to tier one?

Clearly, the company should be doing a better job educating its new hires about the predominant company lingo, including any acronyms that are typically used by more experienced staff. That way, new staff won’t have to ask customers what the company’s own terminology means, which should make those new employees more confident in their abilities and more productive at their jobs.

Over the past few months, I’ve had several problems with the recurring orders for a particular food item. First, the “low salt” version that I prefer was no longer available, so I had to switch to the regular one. Then, the product disappeared altogether, forcing me to start from scratch to find a replacement — which ended up being considerably more expensive.

Obviously, telling a customer that the product they want is no longer available, and expecting them to find a replacement on their own and pay more for it, is a recipe for a high abandonment rate. But in cases where the supplier pulls the product, what’s a retailer to do?

Dealing with this situation is actually pretty simple. When a recurring order can’t be filled anymore, start by giving the customer a list of suggested replacement items. For each one, indicate the difference in size and price so that comparisons don’t require a calculator. Then, if the new item is more costly, provide a temporary credit over the next few orders so the price increase doesn’t feel as steep. By taking these simple steps, you’ll save customers time and enable them to keep recurring orders going, while making your own revenue streams less sensitive to the availability of a specific product or brand.